When Bob Janssen of Monterey, California, was diagnosed for the second time with basal cell carcinoma—this time on the left side of his nose—he procrastinated.
The first time he’d had basal cell skin cancer on the middle of his forehead, his dermatologist advised him to have surgery to remove the cancer, which turned out to be very painful. “The surgery also cut the nerves in my forehead,” says Bob, “so to this day, there are parts of my forehead where I have no feeling.”
So when he found another lesion, for several months, he put off the inevitable. In the meantime, he ran across mention of what was being touted as an in-home cure for skin cancers, a topical cream product called Curaderm BEC5.
Bob began using it in June 2016, applying it two to four times a day. After 95 days, he stopped treatment. The lesion on his nose scabbed over and, after less than a week, the scab fell off. “The skin was completely healed; there was no scar, just a small crater that I’m currently healing. The skin tone was normal.”
And best of all Bob avoided having to undergo the trauma of facial surgery a second time around.
In the US, more than 3.3 million people are treated annually for non-melanoma skin cancer, and one in five Americans will develop some sort of skin cancer during the course of their life. The annual cost of treating skin cancers in the US—both non-melanoma and melanoma—is estimated to be $8.1 billion, and the statistics are about the same for Europe.
According to the American Cancer Society, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) accounts for around 80 per cent of all skin cancers (see box, page 63). It is slow-growing and mostly found in the heavily sun-exposed parts of the skin. BCC rarely spreads to other parts of the body, although it might if it’s left untreated over the long term.
Methods for treating skin cancer and ‘precancerous’ skin conditions like actinic keratosis (AK) vary according to the form they take, how large they’ve grown, how long they’ve been present and where the lesion is located. AK shows up as small, reddish-pink, scaly spots on the face, neck and hands. Also slow-growing, it’s an asymptomatic skin condition that rarely turns cancerous. If it does, it usually affects the squamous cells that make up the surface of the skin.
How Curaderm was invented
Bob Janssen avoided surgery the second time around by using a cream that came about because of one man’s trial-and-error persistence. It has been said that for every disease known to man, there is a cure to be found in nature. The discovery by Dr Bill Cham of solasodine glycoalkaloids, derived from aubergines (eggplants), which can reduce and eliminate cancerous skin tumours, would seem to be a proof in point.
Back in the late 1970s, Cham, then a recent medical graduate specializing in biochemistry, was talking to a veterinarian from Brisbane, Australia. Out of the blue, the vet switched gears and started talking about how the juice from a local plant called the Devil’s Apple was being used to effectively retard the progress of ocular squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) in Hereford cattle.
Although skeptical, Cham realized the enormous possibilities for medicine if it were true and decided to research the facts behind the claim. Considering there were hundreds of possible substances in Devil’s Apple (Solanum linnaeanum) that might be responsible for the SCC remissions, it was a true needle-in-a-haystack venture that took many years and a considerable amount of money to accomplish, which Cham managed to do without a single grant.
Eventually, he isolated the responsible ingredient: solasodine glycosides. The standardized mixture he created is called BEC, and consists of solasonine and solamargine triglycosides plus di- and monoglycosides. The glycosides both contain the same aglycone alkaloid (solasodine), while the sugar portion consists of rhamnose, glucose and galactose.
As it turned out, BEC not only worked with cattle, rendering them cancer-free and prolonging their lives, but Cham also claimed it had what’s called ‘antineoplastic’ properties—it can prevent and inhibit tumours—against a wide variety of human cancers as well.3
Continuing his work, Cham created a BEC topical cream formula that he says treats malignant human skin cancers, AK and even brown age spots. By now, this ‘new’ product has been clinically researched for the treatment of skin cancers and AK for almost 30 years. So far, Cham says that he and his fellow researchers haver published over a hundred articles citing their clinical findings of solasodine glycosides’ anticancer effects.
Over the years, the cream and its active components, solasodine rhamnosyl glycosides, have been used in dozens of clinical studies and, so far, Curaderm BEC5 has proved to be an effective and safe treatment for non-melanoma skin cancers.4 In one such published case study, a patient with a large BCC on his nose, which stubbornly persisted after three failed interventions with “accepted therapies”, experienced a complete remission with Curaderm BEC5.5
In other research, twice-daily applications of Curaderm BEC5 to skin lesions “under occlusive dressing” (air- and water-tight) for trauma resulted in a 78 per cent cure rate after eight weeks of treatment and a 100 per cent cure rate for treatments after 12 weeks.6 Also, when the cream or a placebo (a cream without the active ingredient) was applied topically and dressed twice daily for just three consecutive days, the complete clearance rate for AK compared with the placebo was 92 per cent vs 38 per cent at day 56 of follow-up.7
Two clinical trials of the efficacy and safety of Curaderm for BCCs were conducted by the department of dermatology at the Royal London Hospital. According to their report, the success rate for a small double-blind trial and an open-label trial of the BEC5 cream was also around 78 per cent, in line with the general reported success rate of BEC5. The cream was also deemed safe.8
The same researchers later carried out a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of the cream (called Zycure in the UK) in 94 patients with BCC at 10 health centers across the UK. At eight weeks, the cure rate—complete destruction of BCC with no recurrence—was 66 per cent vs 25 per cent with a placebo, and 78 per cent after one year, with no major side-effects.9
Moving onto melanoma
So far, Curaderm BEC5 has not been used to treat melanomas because of the time the cream takes to act on other forms of skin cancer and AK (a time directly proportional to the size and age of the growths), so the risk of using a treatment that could take weeks to work on a cancer that is so deadly and metastasizes so readily are as yet unknown. However, Cham is planning to start clinical trials for melanoma skin cancers to see whether he can widen BEC’s net.The bonus of Curaderm, claims Cham, is that doesn’t leave a scar. The active anticancer ingredients, solasodine glycoalkaloids, are derived from eggplant, and this natural plant source has no known harmful effects on human tissue. One overview of the studies rates the cosmetic end results with Curaderm BEC5 as “excellent”.10
Dr Matteo Bordignon, a dermatologist and PhD in biomedicine and immunological science in Padua, Italy, relates a story about one of his patients, a 98–year-old woman he treated with Curaderm for multiple BCCs that healed perfectly with no side-effects or scarring. Bordignon has also published a brief record of his experience with Curaderm in five elderly patients (all were over age 70) at the last European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology Congress. “Every patient had more than one lesion, so we did a total of 10 lesions. Of these 10 lesions, nine out of 10 were successfully treated within 12 weeks.” One patient had a nodular BCC on her nose and very poor circulation. “It was quite difficult to treat,” he says. “But in 10 weeks, the carcinoma was resolved without any sort of surgical treatment or scarring.”11
Given the apparently effective healing properties of solasodine glycoalkaloids for external cancerous tumours, there is currently considerable interest and research in the use of these glycoalkaloids (and glycoalkaloids in general) for the treatment of internal cancerous tumors.
So far, studies have shown that glycoalkaloids inhibit the growth of cancer cells in the liver and colon.12 The glycoalkaloid solamargine, derived from S. incanum, or thorn apple, has been shown to trigger apoptosis (natural cell death) in breast cancer cells,13 whereas alpha-solanine, a related compound derived from potato sprouts, can cause apoptosis and also inhibit melanoma cell proliferation and migration.14
Saved from surgery
In 2014, Margaret Watson of Sydney, Australia, felt a lump under her right jaw and consulted her dermatologist. Her doctor performed a biopsy, which confirmed that she had an infiltrative BCC.
Referred to a plastic surgeon, she was horrified to hear that he planned to remove the BCC (which was rather small) by cutting a flap about the size of a small apple from her face. But his description of the damage this particular type of infiltrative BCC could do “so frightened me that I made an appointment there and then to have the surgery the following week”.
Back at home, she began to have second thoughts and started researching her options, when she discovered Curaderm. Watson cancelled her appointment with the plastic surgeon and began treatment with the cream.
Although there was some stinging initially with each application, that soon subsided. “I found it quite amazing that the Curaderm not only worked on the site of the BCC, but also tracked along the path of the tentacle,” she says.Over a period of some weeks, she says a “fair amount of erosion” developed at the jawline site, but no bleeding occurred. Watson fastidiously followed directions, applying Curaderm at least twice a day, covering it with Micropore tape and never allowing the lesion to dry out. Eventually, she says, while still applying the Curaderm, the site started to heal until all that was left was a tiny line along the edge of her jaw.
“It’s now no longer visible at all.”
When Watson returned to the dermatologist, another biopsy confirmed there were no longer any cancer cells present. Since then, Watson has used Curaderm on a total of eight BCCs on her legs, ears and nose.
She finds that the length of time it takes to see results is very much dependent on the size of the lesion. A small BCC on her nose or ear required days to weeks to heal, whereas some larger ones on her legs took months, but all eventually healed.
Despite its efficacy and lack of side-effects (including minimal scarring), Curaderm BEC5 cream (also sold as Kuraderm BEC5 and Zycure) is rarely used by dermatologists for the simple reason that surgery and other therapies are much more profitable than an in-home treatment cream available online for $144 (E135.50) per tube. The main exception is in Russia, where Dr Cham says the product is registered (unlike the UK or US), and all patients using the cream are supervised by dermatologists and oncologists.
The mounting scientific and clinical evidence is persuasive. Now all Cham needs is for a few more advocates, in the form of doctors, patients and researchers, to confirm that his little cream is a
powerful alternative to the cut-burn-freeze approach now on offer.
The conventional menu of treatment options
The following includes all the major conventional skin cancer treatments. With all such treatments, scarring is inevitable, and the psychological issues accompanying such “acquired disfigurement” are usually much more pronounced than those associated with congenital disfigurement. Symptoms include body-image issues, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and a poorer quality of social and family life.1 In fact, the ramifications in some cases can be so intense as to qualify as a social disability.2
Laser therapy, which uses light beams to burn away actinic keratosis (AK) and small superficial squamous cell (SCC) and basal cell (BCC) carcinomas.
Chemical peels with trichloracetic acid (TCA), sometimes used to treat AK and SCC as these lesions lie in the epidermis.
Cryotherapy, where the doctor applies liquid nitrogen to freeze precancerous areas, often used to treat AK, SCCs and BCCs, sometimes more than once during a single office visit. When the skin thaws, it swells, blisters and oozes, and may take a couple of months to heal, leaving a scar.
Curettage and electrodesiccation, an inpatient procedure, where the doctor scrapes away the cancer, using a scoop-like instrument, then applies electrified needles to the area to destroy any remaining cancer cells. Often requires repeats during the same office visit. Usually confined to SCCs and BCCs. Will leave a scar.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) treats AK and small BCCs and SCCs by placing a topically applied liquid drug on affected areas, where it collects in tumour cells and, over time makes them hypersensitive to certain wavelengths of light, which are then applied to kill the cells. Less invasive than cryotherapy, but still causes redness and swelling, leaving the patient’s skin highly sensitive to sunlight.
Excision, used for SCCs, BCCs and melanomas by numbing skin with a local anaesthetic and cutting away the cancerous tissue. A certain amount of normal surrounding tissue (called the ‘margin’) is cut away as well to ensure the cancer is completely removed. Depending on the size of the cancer margins may be as wide as 2 cm—still considerably less than the standard 3–5 cm used in the past.
Can be slow-healing; a lack of healing in some excisions—such as those on the legs of elderly people with poor blood circulation—is not uncommon. Sensory nerve damage due to local anaesthesia, possible motor nerve damage, and thickened tissue or smooth collagenous growths over the wound site.
Mohs Micrographic Surgery (MMS), the ‘gold-standard’ surgical approach, which involves an out-patient procedure using lateral excisions to remove thin horizontal slices of tissue, which are immediately placed under a microscope and examined to determine if the bottom and margins of the slice contain cancer cells. Once a slice reveals that the bottom and margins are cancer-free, the wound is stitched closed.
Advantage over the standard ‘bread-loaf’ excision: the procedure’s precision, as 100 per cent of the tumor margin is examined on every slice taken, rather than 1–3 per cent of margin, plus less peripheral damage and scarring. However, the many possible complications of all surgery include recurrence of cancer.
Topical chemotherapy, which involves a drug such as 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), to treat AK as well as some BCCs and SCCs, applied to the lesion area after surgery and or as follow-up. Results in skin sensitivity to sunlight. In rare cases, people who have a deficiency of the enzyme dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase have a hard time breaking down and eliminating 5-FU, leading to side-effects like diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, and a reduction in blood cells, raising the risk of infection, anaemia, bleeding and bruising. A basic guide to skin cancers
The most common forms of skin cancer are squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and melanomas, so named after the three main types of cells found in the uppermost layers of skin.
Squamous cells are flat cells on the surface of the epidermis (skin) that are constantly wearing off.
Basal cells are formed at a deeper level and migrate upwards to eventually replace the surface squamous cells. Melanocytes manufacture melanin, the pigment that, together with carotene and haemoglobin, gives our skin its colour.
SCCs make up around 20 per cent of all skin cancers, and is predominately found on the face, neck, arms and hands. Melanoma accounts for only around 1 per cent of all skin cancers, but causes the majority of skin cancer deaths and has consistently been on the rise for the last 30 years. Otherwise, some 80 per cent of skin cancers involve basal cells.
One rare form of skin cancer is Merkel cell carcinoma, which affects the cells lying close to the nerve endings in the skin—hence its alternative name of ‘neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin’.
Kaposi sarcoma (KS) affects the cells that line the blood and lymph vessels, and usually presents as purple or red patches on the skin.
Skin lymphoma is a rare type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that originates in the skin (not organs or other tissues); it’s made up of lymphocytes, the small cells found in lymph nodes, which are part of the immune system.
How Curaderm actually works
Rhamnose, one of the plant sugars found in solasodine glycoalkaloids, is a natural sugar, but not one found in mammals, so mammalian cells, including human cells, have no receptor sites for it. Cancer cells in tumours, though, are another matter.
Once rhamnose molecules touch the surface of cancer cells, the cells recognize and bind to the glycoalkaloids. The next thing that happens is that the glycoalkaloids are absorbed into the cancer cells via what’s called ‘receptor-mediated endocytosis’.
“It gets into the cancer cell and it goes into the lysosome of the cancer cell [considered the ‘stomach’ of the cancer cell],” says Bill Cham, the medic and biochemist who discovered the cancer-fighting potential of solasodine glycoalkaloids.
“Once it’s in the lysosome, the alkaloid actually breaks the membrane of the lysosome open, and all of the hydrolytic enzymes that are within diffuse into the cytoplasm of the cancer cell.”
The nuclear membrane of the cancer cell then dissolves, and this affects the mitochondria, triggering something called ‘apoptosis’, or natural cell death, through a certain process.
Because normal human cells have no receptor sites for rhamnose, they remain unaffected and unharmed. This is why, unlike chemotherapy, Curaderm doesn’t appear to have any biological side-effects, maintains Cham. And why there is no scarring or disfigurement.
“When you’re treating skin cancer, for instance, while the cancer cells are dying during treatment, the normal cells replace the cancer cells,” claims Cham. “That’s why the cosmetic effect using the Curaderm is so impressive. After treatment, you won’t even know that you had a cancer there.”